Record Machine: “The Drugs Don’t Work” by The Verve

The Verve’s 12” single for “The Drugs Don’t Work” is one of the few ’90s-era records in my collection. Featuring shimmering strings and longing lyrics, the song is one of my favorites from their 1997 album, Urban Hymns.

The Verve - The Drugs Don't Work (12" single sleeve)

Someone I knew through a music-related message board sold me this single (along with one by The Sundays, which I’m sure I’ll talk about eventually) when she was in the process of moving. I remember her list being a veritable gold mine, something that made me wish I’d had more money with which to purchase all those great records. Hopeless completist and musical pack-rat that I am, I always flinch when someone sells of large chunks of their collection. (Same goes for books.)

Still, having loved Urban Hymns and every other Verve album, I am so pleased to give this single a home. There are two B-sides — or rather, a second song on each side of the single that is not on the album — “Three Steps” and “The Crab.”

“Three Steps” reminds me some of the Verve’s earlier songs, all psychedelic, fuzzy, and lengthy. Depending on one’s mood it either sounds amazing on headphones, or it takes a turn into overwhelming chaos. I dig it. (I also love that the above video pairs it with The Big Lebowski footage.)

“The Crab” is a woozy, falsetto interlude that doesn’t exactly feel like a full song yet, but I still enjoy it. Although I know that The Verve predated Oasis in their first album release, and that they hate the ongoing comparisons, I can’t help but say that “The Crab” reminds me of Noel Gallagher demos, when he’s fishing along on his acoustic and singing of drugs and loneliness.

Also on Side B is the demo version of “The Drugs Don’t Work,” which features acoustic guitar and no strings. Richard Ashcroft’s voice is a little strange here — you’d almost think it wasn’t him — and the line “they just make you worse” becomes “they just make me worse.” It’s an interesting alternate version and a great jumping off point, but I prefer the finished version.

And oh, that finished version. It’s beautiful and sad, and it makes me want to write.

Now the drugs don’t work
They just make you worse
But I know I’ll see your face again

But I know I’m on a losing streak
‘Cause I passed down my old street
And if you wanna show, then just let me know
And I’ll sing in your ear again

The song is unyielding grief, an unrequited desire to be numb, and it wonders how much worse one can feel. Can that be beautiful? Yes. When one listens to the song, it is heart-swelling in the best of ways. There is a teeny-tiny sliver of hope buried in all that melancholy, hidden in the strings. It may take awhile, but relief will come.

The record sleeve is thin. Flexible. It makes me want to handle these songs with extra care.

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Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

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